Happy Thanksgiving, St. Louis Rams fans!
Stuff your faces, revel in good graces and watch intently today as several NFL teams continue their playoff races. Meh.
The Rams season is now all but over, but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying this wonderful day. So sit back, watch some football and daydream about the future as you pretend to listen to your in-laws tell you all about how their children will one day valiantly change the world as they currently shove Lego's in their nose in the other room.
Three years ago, when the Jeff Fisher and Les Snead era was still new and full of giddy anticipation, we took a look at ten reasons to give thanks to the tumultuous and futile leadership duo that was general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Well, it's time for a redo, as much of that stuffing has long since gone stale and sour.
St. Louis has come a long way since Thanksgiving of 2012, when they ate with a 3-6-1 record instead of the 4-7 record they dine with today. Be grateful.
If your stomach can take it, here we go...
Honorable Mention 2: Brian Quick
Since being the first pick of the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft, much of Brian Quick's career has been marred by disappointment. In his first two seasons, he started only six games, scored only four touchdowns and struggled to consistently -- if at all -- have an impact on the field. That all changed in 2014.
Quick appeared rejuvenated in the early goings this season, quickly finding chemistry with cut-again, signed-again backup quarterback Austin Davis, who quite often literally threw caution to the wind. He posted career highs in receptions (25), receiving yards (375) and touchdowns (3). And he did it all in less than seven full games as disappointment struck one more time.
The Rams lost Brian Quick for the season in Kansas City when the third-year pro dislocated his shoulder and tore his rotator cuff, a potentially troublesome injury that could linger and hinder him down the road. He is expected to make a full recovery; however, we can only speculate what kind of impact a player who had only just begun to make a name for himself will have going forward. In the meantime, we can only reminisce about how great it felt to dream about a potential 1,000-yard receiver in 2014.
Honorable Mention 1: Diamonds in the Rough
Say what you will about the Rams recent successes and shortcomings in the draft and free agency, but Fisher and Snead have shown a knack for discovering, molding and/or recycling key players out of less than desirable talent. Because there are several, and because they probably don't individually deserve their own slot on this list, they're getting lumped together into one big, polished pile of awesomeness.
First and foremost, give it up for offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, whom the Rams signed away from Oakland in September of 2012. After making scarce appearances in his first year with St. Louis, Barksdale started 13 games in 2013 and has started every game on the right side this season, playing admirably at times. Are there more, you ask? Of course there are!
Pick a running back who has carried the ball in St. Louis over the last three years and throw him in here. Guard Davin Joseph hasn't been too terribly, maddeningly, painfully hard to watch in a reserve role. We're all still on the Ethan Westbrooks bandwagon, right? Kenny Britt? A much better football player than Instagram user.
And there's no forgetting rookie cornerback E.J. Gaines, the hometown kid, a sixth round pick in this year's draft who has been nothing short of terrific after being thrust into the starting lineup way too early for most who boast the same résumé.
Then there are these guys...
10: Kicker Greg Zuerlein and Punter Johnny Hekker
Ah, yes. The special teams tandem to end all special teams tandems, Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker can rest assured that they have a future with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey when their football careers are over. Are we grasping at straws here?
Greg Pelé Zuerlein (because the "Leg" needs a rest) hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations that Rams Nation placed upon him three years ago, but more often than not, he does his job. Praise the defense all you'd like, but "GZ" was flawless in St. Louis' week 11 victory of the Denver Broncos, making all five attempts with a long of 55 yards. He is now 65 of 79 on career field goal attempts, knocking through 82.3 percent of his tries. Remember, former Rams kicker Jeff "Money" Wilkins finished his career with a 81.9 percent success rate. He's the standard, right?
And not enough can possibly be said about the Rams proverbial fourth-down quarterback and probably the team's best punter in my lifetime, Johnny Hekker. After making his first Pro Bowl in only his second season, Hekker continues to headline NFL Films highlight reels in 2014. His net yard average on punts (41.4), which is down from last season, currently ranks seventh in the league. In 43 career games, he has never had a kick returned for a touchdown, unless you include the one that he placed over the shoulder of Stedman Bailey. Hekker also has a fairly good arm, ya know, in case you're into trick plays or something.
And he does stuff like this...
9: The Safety Trio
They're unheralded, they're largely unproven, they sometimes make mistakes, but they've shown a lot of promise. And if you could somehow put all of them together, the Rams would have one really very good safety.
Second-year pro T.J. McDonald, lights-out clean-hitter Rodney McLeod and newly acquired former-Buccaneer Mark Barron each have their flaws, particularly in deep coverage, but having the three together allows the Rams to employ more advanced looks and packages on defense. Perhaps most interestingly, we've witnessed the McBrothers maintain their role in the backend with Barron assuming the nickel linebacker spot after Jo-Lonn Dunbar vanished into thin air.
It remains to be seen how this position progresses after this season, but the Rams are still invested in McDonald and the team insists that Barron is a long-term solution. McLeod, an undrafted rookie in 2012 and yet another diamond in the rough, may soon see his playing time dwindle if the team adds to the competition.
8: Running Back Tre Mason
After making absolutely no impact in the first four games of the season, the rookie out of Auburn has put a stranglehold on the lead running back duties. In seven games (with only four starts), Tre Mason has amassed 445 yards on 108 carries and a touchdown. I find myself asking the same weirdly ironic question that we all had near the end of last season: What would (insert rookie running back here) have accomplished had he been given the ball earlier?
It's too soon to declare Tre Mason the Rams running back of the future, largely because St. Louis has had three or four of them over the past 400 days or so. It all started with Daryl Richardson, who departed before the 2014 season. Then it was Zac Stacy -- remember that guy? -- who stole the show as a rookie last year only to be shown the bench early this season. And there's Benny Cunningham, who, in stints, shows play-making ability.
Of all the backs mentioned, Mason is easily the most talented and provides the most upside. Barring injury, he will end the season as the starter and will almost certainly carry the load for the first four games of 2015. After that, we'll just have to wait and see.
7: Defensive Tackle Michael Brockers
The very first acquisition in the aftermath of the Robert Griffin III trade, Michael Brockers was not the glorious playmaker Rams fans had hoped for in the 2012 draft. He did, however, become one of the more effective rookie starters that the team had in quite some time, compiled 31 tackles and four sacks.
Brockers has risen to the occasion on one of the best defensive lines in football, making a name for himself as a brute run defender with the ability to crush the pocket. He currently splits snaps with fellow interior linemen Aaron Donald and Kendall Langford, with the latter seeing his playing time decrease following the addition of the former, but we'll get to that.
Brockers, in only his third season, now has 11.5 career sacks from a position that typically struggles to reach the quarterback. He could be in line for a bigger role and full-time playing duties in 2015 if the Rams opt to depart with the overpaid veteran Langford.
6: The Starting Cornerback Duo
There may not be a player in a Rams uniform that regularly receives more flak than Janoris Jenkins. He occasionally gets lost in coverage, he sometimes appears to be guessing on his assignments and, despite his nose for the football, is prone to giving up big plays at the least opportune times. With all that said, the young jackrabbit with a troubled past is nothing short of a ball magnet with home run ability.
To date, Jenkins now has six defensive touchdowns in less than a three-year span, with his longest and most recent being a 99-yard pick six of Philip Rivers last Sunday.
If you're keeping track at home, five of Jenkins' seven career interceptions have been returned to pay dirt. Also, I could be alone on this, but I see few corner backs currently in the NFL with as much frequent success and willingness to bring down bigger ball carriers in an open field as Jenkins.
Of course, we can't forget about Trumaine Johnson, the other CB the Rams drafted in 2012. Like Jenkins, Johnson was thought to be a first-round talent coming out of school, but due to a myriad of outside reason, he dropped on many teams' big boards. And like Jenkins, Johnson experienced a healthy, young career until a knee injury sidelined him for the first quarter of 2014.
He has never been a star for the St. Louis Rams, but Trumaine Johnson is a big, physical corner who relishes contact. This duo should only continue to grow.
5: Outside Linebacker Alec Ogletree
Since being taken with the 30th pick in the 2013 draft, Alec Ogletree has gone from good to bad to worse to great and OK again in the eyes of Rams fans. Playing next to long-standing ironman James Laurinaitis, the second-year linebacker struggled in coverage as a rookie and has made a few disastrous mistakes while trying to learn his second NFL defensive playbook, some of which should be common sense. (See: He and about five other defenders jump on Russell Wilson's pump fake before the quarterback sprints down the sideline.)
Ogletree currently leads the Rams with 73 tackles and three forced fumbles and is tied with Jenkins with two interceptions in 2014. A former college safety, logic would dictate that Ogletree should have some semblance coverage ability, particularly with tight ends and running backs. He does, but that talent seems to fade away and reappear in sporadic spurts.
Fortunately, Ogletree isn't going anywhere any time soon. A hard-hitting freight train with a chip on his shoulder and rare speed for a linebacker, he has the potential to become a stalwart in the Rams defense for years to come.
4: Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson
The second overall pick that couldn't even crack a Rams starting lineup on day one, Greg Robinson was considered by some to be a bust before he ever even put his hand in the dirt. That ship has sailed. The knock on Greg Robinson coming out of the draft -- don't act like you forgot -- was that he was an unrefined prospect who needed time to develop.
Coming out of Auburn's spread offensive along with fellow alum Tre Mason, Robinson is considered by some to be a future perennial Pro Bowler. Only time will tell, but standing menacingly at 6'5" and more than 330 pounds with deceptive lateral agility, no one will dispute his potential.
Until Jake Long went down with his second torn ACL in as many years, the Rams tinkered with Robinson along the offensive line. He now resides as the team's starting left tackle, which is where we all envisioned him eventually ending up and staying for the next decade.
3: Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams
Yeah -- that just happened. A coach is on the list.
There once was a time -- let's call it October -- that the Rams new defensive coordinator received as much constant harsh criticism as the team's humdrum offensive coordinator with a 1970s gameplan, Brian Schottenheimer. All that has changed.
It required a longer-than-hoped-for period of adjustment, but the Rams defense appears to be clicking. As we approach the end of the 2014 NFL season, we can actually take solace in that the Rams defense we've all been preaching and clamoring over for the last, oh, more than four years may finally be coming to fruition.
Let's just accept it and learn to live with it. The St. Louis Rams are not an offensive football team. With Gregg Williams overseeing the defense, though, that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Sacks, turnovers and this? Yes, please.
2: Defensive End Robert Quinn
As a rookie, Robert Quinn showed a ton of potential and appeared destined to become a pretty good pass rusher in the NFL. Although he was drafted by the previous regime in its final season, Quinn has become an all-around superstar under Jeff Fisher, defensive line coach Mike Waufle and Co.
After appearing in his first Pro Bowl in 2013, Quinn has had a down statistical year, but his impact has not changed on the field. The sacks may not be there in bunches this season; however, any Rams fan with a working television can attest to the fact that Quinn is in the opponent's backfield on nearly every play. If not, he's being held. Period.
The most important reason Quinn ranks so high on this list is his future. In September, the Rams signed Quinn to a four-year contract extension, keeping him in St. Louis through 2020 and putting to rest every fan's greatest fear. He will be wearing horns in Pro Bowls for years to come. Kudos, Les Snead and Kevin Demoff.
Just lean back and wobble.
There likely isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't gladly throw Robert Quinn immediately into its starting lineup. And there aren't many other Rams of whom the same thing can said.
1: Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald
The best week-in, week-out rookie contributor the Rams have had in years, Aaron Donald has been a revelation, a godsend, an all-around stud on a defensive line that was already crowded before his presence was known.
Before being drafted 13th overall, many, including Jeff Fisher himself, assumed the Pittsburgh star would be drafted long before the Rams second first-round pick. Fortunately, those in St. Louis' war room didn't overthink the John Randle reincarnate.
Aaron Donald has been, to put it simply, spectacular. He currently leads all Rams defensive linemen with 31 tackles and leads all rookies with five sacks, the same total Robert Quinn finished with in his rookie year.
The rookie defensive tackle class. One of these is not like the others... pic.twitter.com/E8VrcSqsxS— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 24, 2014
Is it too early to anoint Aaron Donald a future Hall of Famer? Only if you want to be a Debbie Downer about it. But he is on the short ballot for Defensive Rookie of the Year and is certainly making a case for his first Pro Bowl in just his first season.
It's difficult to keep fabricating silver linings as we find ourselves one loss away from Jeff Fisher third losing campaign with the St. Louis Rams, but Aaron Donald is as golden as they come. It won't be long before we start comparing him to Robert Quinn on a regular basis.
**Bonus** The dedicated and invaluable community of TST.
Lastly, but most importantly, we here at Turf Show Times would like to thank each and every one of you. Without you, our loyal, receptive and analytical readers, none of what we do would be possible. Times may be tough -- or the same, depending on how you look at it -- but at least we have each other.
Thanks you all, and have a great holiday!